I was recently asked to write an inspiring and encouraging newsletter article for my beloved Stainland Lions Running Club. It seemed a bit of a shame to only share it with my teammates so I’ve decided to publish it here on my site.
Now before you read this I should state that I am not a qualified coach, a nutritionalist or indeed a running expert. I’m just a guy who likes to run. All views are entirely my own and I can only draw upon my own knowledge and experience as a practising athlete.
So here goes…
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a very successful running career so far and everything I’ve achieved is the result of hard work and dedication. It’s important for everyone reading this to understand that I am not even the most talented athlete in my club. I just work harder than anyone else I know and hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. If you don’t believe me then check out my Strava stats and you’ll see the true cost of what it takes to run at the highest level.
Now I know what most of you are all thinking…how can I ever run at elite level? Well the truth is that most of you won’t – despite the fact that you are probably more than capable enough. This article is not about trying to turn everyone into an international mountain runner. It’s about making you realise your potential, set yourself a personal target/s and try to help you to improve your performance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a front runner or someone at the back of the pack – everyone is capable of achieving their goal/s. In addition to this I want to promote the sport of fell/mountain running for anyone unfamiliar to off-road running.
You’ll also have to forgive the title of this article as unfortunately nothing worth achieving in life is ‘easy’, especially within sport. That said there are some things you can do to improve that are easier than others.
So here are my top tips…
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone. Understand that if you make a number of small changes in your life then collectively they will have a huge impact on your performance. The other 9 tips I’m about to share with you are all examples of how to make these marginal gains.
Hills. The very word is enough to frighten most runners. Don’t be afraid – hills can be your friend. The more you do the easier they get. Hills are a staple diet for any wannabe fell or mountain runner but even those who prefer the road or track can enjoy their benefits. If you incorporate a weekly hill session into your training then you will see a huge difference in your performance. I’ve never been a natural climber but I’ve turned climbing into my secret weapon by regularly doing hill sessions and slowly increasing the difficulty and speed at which I do them. It’s also good to vary the incline and terrain so that your body learns how to adapt to the changes in ascent. Remember that no hill is ever the same.
Start by choosing a hill to practise on. If you are a real beginner then you don’t have to run the full length of the climb. Set yourself a target and try to improve the distance each time you do it. You could also try a pyramid session using lamp posts as markers. I used to regularly run up and down Coldswell Hill in Stainland, starting at the bottom and running up to the first lamp post and back, then to the second and back and so on and so forth…Then when you eventually ‘top off’ and reach the final rep, work your way back down to the first until you’ve completed the pyramid.
For anyone who fancies a more difficult challenge you might also want to consider repping an incline like Trooper Lane. There are a number of segments on Strava to aim for and you can compare your performance over a number of weeks.
If you live in Calderdale then why not run over to Trooper and have a crack at these segments…
The 1 / 3 Peaks / High 5 / Magnificent 7 / Ben 10
Arguably my best tip. Strava has literally changed my life. Please be aware that it does come with a serious health warning as it can be very addictive. However if you do decide to succumb to the dark side and immerse yourself in ‘segments’, ‘badges’ and ‘Kudos’ you will undoubtably reap the rewards.
I’m no expert on road shoes but I do know my mountain gear. Having the right shoes for training and competition is the easiest improvement that anyone can make.
In my opinion the best fell/trail/xc shoes for racing are the inov-8 x-talon 190
They’re the lightest fell racing shoes on the market and they provide both excellent grip and fit. I use precision fit because I have very long and narrow feet – if you don’t then make sure you order standard fit and go for the 200 model.
For training I wear the inov-8 x-talon 212
They’re a very durable shoe and good over all terrains. Mine are also a precision fit shoe so go for the standard alternative if your feet aren’t like mine.
My other golden recommendation has to be to BUY MERINO for base layers. It’s as simple as that. Merino will keep you super warm in the winter even when it’s wet – there is no better alternative.
If you want to splash the cash my personal favourite is the inov-8 hooded long sleeved race elite merino base layer.
It is quite simply the best top I’ve ever worn for running.
That said Aldi have been selling a really great selection of merino baselayers and I’ve tried those too. They’re not quite the same beautiful fit as inov-8 but at £15 you can’t go wrong!
All the best runners have a super strong core. It’s what drives everything during exercise and is essential when you’re climbing the hills. If you improve your core strength then you will improve your technique and ultimately your results. I spend at least 30 minutes everyday on core exercises either in the gym or at home. If you’re pushed for time like me then opt for the latter. I try to do 200 sit ups, 100 press ups, timed planks and various exercises with resistance bands everyday after a run and before I jump in the shower. Start small and build up the amount – trust me after a few weeks you’ll be able to wash your running kit on your stomach 😉
If you never experienced a fell race before then you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Have a read of my inov-8 blog about how I ‘fell’ in love with running if you need a little inspiration…
Here are my top 5 recommendations for reasonably LOCAL fell races during March…
(see the Fellrunner site for more details and other races)
- Sunday 6/3/2016 Ian Roberts Memorial (6.4 miles/853ft climb) @ 11:00am
- Saturday 12/3/2016 Haworth Hobble (31.7miles/4396ft climb) @ 8:00am
- Sunday 20/3/2016 Heptonstall (15.4 miles/3169ft climb) @ 10.30am
- Saturday 26/3/2016 Rivington Pike (3.2 miles/699ft climb) @ 15:00pm
- Tuesday 29/3/2016 Bunny Run 1 (3 miles/328ft climb) @ 19:00pm
It’s a fairly obvious point to make but if you look after yourself and respect your body you’ll be able to run faster, run for longer and become much stronger. Eat well, sleep well and try not to over indulge on the booze (cutting down on alcohol is massively important!). Also if you’re someone who struggles to get a good night’s sleep then go and do one of my Trooper Lane hill sessions and I guarantee you’ll be out for the count until the morning. In fact make sure you set 2 alarms or there’s a danger you might not wake up until the afternoon.
In terms of diet the best piece of advice I can give you is to eat like a king in the morning. My usual breakfast consists of a power smoothie, a pack of smoked salmon and a strong coffee. I use a Nutribullet to make my smoothie and include a banana, strawberries, blueberries, mango, natural yoghurt, porridge, chia seeds, milk and a scoop of protein. It’s the perfect way to start the day! Plus you won’t need to eat until dinnertime unless you’re like me! Snack on nuts, seeds and fruit and try to stay away from the chocolate drawer.
Over the last 12 months I’ve managed to lose a stone and it’s the main reason I’m able to compete at such a high level. Power to weight ratio is crucial in fell/mountain running and if you can lose weight and maintain or increase your power output then you will see a huge improvement in your results.
Also little tip for getting motivated to run after work is to have a double espresso and a small banana about 20 mins before a run. It’ll give you enough energy and drive to get out in whatever the weather!
I find inspiration by looking at what other people are doing in their training and their race results. In addition to this I use Strava as a motivational tool e.g. segments and challenges. I also read plenty of books about inspirational stories, usually about running and cycling.
My personal recommendations are…
- Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
- Running Hot by Lisa Tamati
- Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
- Born to Run by Chris McDougall
- The Secret Race by Daniel Coyle & Tyler Hamilton (this one is just a great read!)
My fell running heroes are Ian Holmes, Rob Hope, Rob Jebb and Karl Gray. I’ve previously blogged about how friendly and approachable the elite athletes of fell running are. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call these four men my friends, especially Karl and Rob Hope. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount from them all over the years and my advice for you is to try and do the same. Next time you’re at a fell race don’t be afraid to chat to the guys who finish at the front. Not only are they exceptionally talented athletes but they are also extremely modest and humble people. Ask away, they’ll be more than happy to share their tips, especially if you buy them a pint in the pub afterwards!
There’s no point in doing anything in life that you don’t enjoy. The same applies to running. I have to confess that despite being a good runner I don’t always feel fast or great when I’m training. In fact 40% of the time it’s a real struggle and I have to try and motivate myself, especially when the weather is poor outside. It’s all about having a positive mindset and I always enjoy running once I leave the house.
Run with friends, meet other like-minded people and always do it with a smile on your face. The more you run, the fitter you’ll get and the better you’ll feel. When you start seeing all your hard work paying off then you’ll enjoy every run you do and you’ll even start to love hill reps (OK I lied about this bit – there’s probably only me who actually enjoys running uphill, but it does get easier!)
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t ever let yourself believe you can’t do something either. Anything is possible and if you want something badly enough then you can achieve it.
In the space of 18 months I’ve gone from a top club runner to one of the best mountain runners in the country. There were lots of people who didn’t believe I’d make it to international level but I never doubted it for a moment. Last year I made the GB mountain running team by 8 seconds.
The sum of marginal gains.
It was worth every sacrifice I’ve had to make and every hour I’ve put into training. You can all be whoever you want to be and achieve your goals no matter what.
Life is short.
Don’t waste any opportunities or have any regrets.
Dare to dream.
Now stop reading this article, lace up your trainers and I’ll see you on Trooper Lane.